Annihilator – The Demented Check In Part 1Sunday, 12th November 2017
Dead Rhetoric: In our last interview you discussed the fact that you write for the music first, without being conscious of how the melodies and lyrics will fit around your chord progressions/ riffs. Has that changed in any way for this album – and how do you feel you’ve developed as a vocalist through the years beyond your obvious abilities on guitar?
Waters: No- only with “Pieces of You” was the case of the lyrics written first. And that was written on a plane just to annoy my guitar player. He’d taken a bit of time with his own band, to get his songs written for his band. I was nudging him to get things done in the hotel room or touring bus. I jokingly wanted to prove it to him, so on a short European flight for an hour and a half I grabbed a pen and paper for the plane and sat there and wrote the song- showed it to him when I got off the plane. It doesn’t mean everybody can do that, but I wanted to prove the point that you just have to put the time in and do it.
I split my vocal stuff in my brain into two sides- there’s the touring thing and the studio. In the studio, I’m not going to say it’s easy, but I produce Annihilator records and other records from bands for decades, and I try to make average singers sound much better, and that’s the whole point, right? When you have a lot of experience with singers in the studio, I don’t necessarily have a great voice at all -but I can know what to do with it to make it sound better. Just me in studio there’s not as many nerves, you just need the confidence level. If I step back and lose the ego, I think I did a killer job on the vocals for the new record. That said, since I started singing for the band again on tour in 2015, we’ve done eighteen months of touring and if you throw a guy 49 years-old who hasn’t sung for a few decades standing on a stage with 100,000 people and trying to play his guitar stuff and sing stuff done by some really great vocalists at the same time- that is the biggest challenge of my life. It will take me a few years of hard work to get really better and better at that. I want to get better at that.
Dead Rhetoric: How much fun do you have doing those all-star jams for the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruises- what have been some of your favorite memories that have developed out of this?
Waters: When it started for me on that cruise, we played with Annihilator many years ago, and the boss Andy (Piller) was our old tour manager in the year 2000. He went on to do different things and move from Switzerland to Vancouver, Canada. I lost touch with him- and then he had this massively successful, best cruise you could possibly imagine 70,000 Tons of Metal. Since we were friends but he was still the boss of the crew, he went around the cruise and asked me if I would throw together a little jam session in the karaoke room. I didn’t think I could go around and ask people, we need equipment and this and this, musicians need to learn these songs. Somehow, I threw it together, which held 200 people at the most and 400 people came in and squished in there. The boss looked at me and knew exactly what we were going to do next year (laughs).
It exploded from a few hundred people to become one of the main events of the cruise. We get a lot of the well-known and not so well-known musicians up there, being put in very uncomfortable, awkward positions as musicians. Throwing them up there, including myself- and I’m not saying that I’m that amazing- but you watch amazing musicians go up there who are amazing in their own bands and kick ass, and they go up shaking like babies because they are so nervous about playing with other people and playing covers. It’s a blast, and a lot of work to do because you are putting 40 musicians from all around the world to meet up together on this ship and most of them in the beginning want to choose their own songs. We couldn’t do that though, otherwise we would have had 400 songs. I had to lay the law down pretty quick and say if you want to be in the jam, this is what you have to do. A lot of people said ‘Fuck you’… politely of course. And then when it became such a feature on the cruise, musicians e-mail me now and ask if they can get involved.
I’ve got the easiest job and the most fun job in the world with that jam. It’s a blast to go to Michael Schenker and Dave Lombardo and say, “Painkiller”, you know what I mean? You never could have told the teenage Jeff Waters that someday you were going to be having Lombardo in your hotel room to go over a Judas Priest song. I never could have believed that when I was younger. Fans love it- when the musicians come on for the first time, they are not sure they want to do this- but I sort of push them to keep their promise to be in it. Once they do it, they go up to me and thank me for getting them into this, they know it’s fun.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you feel like your audience has changed much for Annihilator from the early days to today? Has it been important to receive ringing endorsements from younger bands like Trivium taking you on tour to keep momentum strong for a second/third generation of Annihilator followers?
Waters: Annihilator, we had our little run in North America so to speak from 1989-1991. A two or three- year run, and this music went right out, this traditional 80’s and thrash metal, was cleared out of North America in 99% of clubs and labels. We were lucky we had Europe and Japan- and later South America. For some reason we just didn’t get kicked out of there like a lot of other bands did, and we rose up with our third album in Japan and fourth album in Europe became really big records. I remember Bon Jovi had this record, the single “Bed of Roses” was out, and we were in Japan when our album hit number two only next to Bon Jovi on the main charts. You would go to shopping malls and grocery stores and your songs would be playing on the radio- and that’s nothing I would have ever thought or hoped for with this band. Our career just stayed over there, and we’ve never really been back over to North America since.
Europeans are kind of… they were in their late teens and early twenties when they followed the first album or two. After that, you go through this 1997-2007 cycle where we had a down decade- we sold enough records to go over and play and tour but it wasn’t something I could keep going financially without doing the studio work and writing for other things. In 2007 it started going up and up again for us. It was a big shift, the kids… they would lose track of us or follow us- then they would have a kid and they would say ‘I like that song you wrote for your son’… sort of personal relating between the older Annihilator fan from the 1980’s and they had kids. The third phase is their kids were late teenagers and they discovered Megadeth, Annihilator- I see people over there in their late 20’s talking about seeing us on the Refresh the Demon tour with their dads. We have a faithful following that are older in the late 40’s and early 50’s, but the majority of our fans are now between 18-28 in our main markets. It’s very weird but cool.
The second half of Matt Coe’s chat with Jeff Waters will post Monday night, November 13, 2017.
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